Sasol has committed to reducing its carbon emissions by 10%. This is a company that was created to turn coal into fuel. So the commitment is something. As is the acceptance that it contributes to global warming.
That’s the end of the good news.
The 10% reduction is as absurd as the Economic Freedom Fighters’ election campaign promise to cut South Africa’s carbon emissions by 5%. Neither are cognisant of the reality of the climate crisis.
The United Nations says global carbon emissions have to drop by 45% by 2030. If they don’t, life on Earth becomes treacherous.
South Africa has largely ignored this science. In a report released last month detailing its climate plans, Sasol does a good job of appearing as if it is doing a great deal to reduce emissions — but then it explains why the company can’t actually do much.
For context: Sasol is the second largest polluter in South Africa; it lobbies for environmental laws to be watered down and it applies for exemptions to comply with already weak air quality legislation.
Sasol is as bad a petrochemical company as you can get. But petrochemical companies are collapsing as investors move their money to assets that care about the future. So Sasol has to be seen to be doing something. Its climate change report — Positioning For Resilience In a Lower-carbon Future — starts with an admission of the scale of the climate crisis: “The next decade is deemed critical for emissions reductions to prevent further natural disasters and ecosystem impacts, and to safeguard the quality of life for future generations.”
At the heart of the report is an admission of Sasol’s real problem — its polluting business model cannot exist in a world where carbon emissions are dramatically reduced. The company notes: “This [10% reduction] target is challenging for a carbon-intensive petrochemicals business with limited alternative energy sources.”
In the medium term, the company admits it will have to shift “our portfolio towards operations and businesses that are compatible with a lower-carbon economy”.
The Sasol of today cannot exist in the future. But this is a country where difficult decisions are rarely taken — especially when it comes to the climate crisis.